About one in four seniors fall at least once a year, and falls are even more common for people who have Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, people with Alzheimer’s are three times more likely to fracture a hip when they fall, which can lead to further issues such as immobility and surgery.
Part of trying to understand why affected individuals fall and how to reduce the incidents of falls lie in the root cause of the fall itself. It takes some time to learn the ways and physical limitations of a person with Alzheimer's, so the caregiver can anticipate missteps and decrease falls.
As the disease progresses, it causes weakness in muscle strength, walking and balance. The gait (the way a person moves his or her legs) also declines.
The cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s also increase the risk of falling. For instance, because of memory impairment, the person tries to walk independently when he or she is not steady enough or strong enough to do so. And he or she may forget that walking means putting one foot in front of the other so they lose their balance and fall.
In the moderate stages of the disease, the affected person may begin to shuffle when he or she walks, which can cause a great deal of unsteadiness and a higher risk of falls.
Regular exercise can help improve balance, strength and agility. But the caregiver should first talk to a physician and get a referral for a balance and gait assessment for his or her loved one. A physical therapist can recommend suitable balance and strengthening exercises and may suggest the use of a walker or cane. These devices can give added confidence and support.
However, as the disease progresses, the affected person may need to be consistently prompted and instructed to use the cane or walker as he or she will likely forget.
The caregiver should also consult with the physician to review all the loved one’s medications. Some drugs, including medications for blood pressure, depression, pain, overactive bladder, sleeping issues and antipsychotics, increase the risk of falls.
Safety in the home is an important aspect in preventing falls.
Remove clutter and make sure regular pathways are cleared. Remove all floor rugs and use nonslip bath mats in the tub or shower. Have grab bars near the toilet and shower and install handrails in the hallways.
Poor vision is common and can lead to falls, so make sure lighting is adequate, paying careful attention to glares or shadows in the areas.
Because of vision impairments and perception, people with Alzheimer's can have difficulty in a room with busy patterns or even similar-colored furniture. Try to use soothing colors, like hues of blue or green and use different colors in different rooms.
Finally, and more importantly, make sure that the affected person wears shoes that fit well, provide good support and have nonslip soles.
These measures can help reduce the risk of falls, but there is no guarantee. Daily habits should be monitored. Adequate exercise can promote muscle strength and stability. As the affected person’s gait worsens, he or she should always be assisted in walking.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at firstname.lastname@example.org.